Making the transition from high school baseball to the pro game is hard enough. Had Phillies 2021 first-round pick Andrew Painter spent the year with Single-A Clearwater and had a full and healthy season, that would have been plenty.
It became pretty clear early, however, that the big right-hander from Florida needed to be challenged. So the organization presented that challenge by way of a promotion not once, but twice. Each time, the teenaged phenom not only rose to the occasion, he got better. Finishing the year in Double-A, Painter ended with a combined 1.56 ERA, .181 batting average against and 0.89 WHIP. Over 103 2/3 innings of work, the 6-foot-7 Painter struck out 155 and walked just 25 for ridiculous ratios of 13.5 per nine and 2.2 BB/9. It made him the obvious selection for MLB Pipeline Pitching Prospect of the Year honors.
“It’s great to get any award, of course, first being recognized by the organization,” said Painter, who was named by the Phillies as their top Minor League pitcher for 2022. “You hear everything that’s going on in the Phillies system and it’s easy to look at that stuff. But once you get that recognition, to see how you’re doing in the year compared to everyone else, across all 30 teams, it’s an honor.”
Just how good was Painter compared to everyone else? Among Minor League pitchers with at least 100 innings, he led everyone in WHIP and with his 32.4 percent K-BB%. He finished second in ERA, fifth in K/9, sixth in BAA and eighth in K/BB. And he did it all across three levels, all at the age of 19. Painter began the year outside of the Top 100 list and now sits at No. 24, which might be a little light at this point.
Painter was the clear winner of this year’s award, even when compared to the other arms on this year’s Prospect Team of the Year. He joins previous Pipeline Pitching Prospects of the Year like Grayson Rodriguez (2021), MacKenzie Gore (2019) and Dylan Cease (2018). He became just the sixth high school pitcher to be drafted in the first round since 2000 to make it to Double-A in his first full season. The other five have compiled 16 All-Star game nods and four Cy Young Awards: Zack Greinke (2002), Chad Billingsley (2003), Clayton Kershaw (2007), Dylan Bundy (2011) and Forrest Whitley (2016).
“If I had told you that he’d finish in Double-A, I would’ve been lying to you,” said Phillies farm director Preston Mattingly about predicting Painter’s dominance at the start of the year. “Now looking back at the kid, the body, the talent, the work ethic, it doesn’t shock you.
“Especially for his age, the command he has is impressive. He struggled the most command-wise at the lowest level. As we pushed him to higher levels, he rose to that challenge and his stuff got better, as did his pitch mix. He used all of his weapons.”
Painter largely used his fastball-slider combination during his nine-start stay with Clearwater, and it’s hard to blame him. Single-A hitters managed just a .130 batting average and he struck out 16.1 per nine. He also walked 3.7 per nine and realized when he reached High-A Jersey Shore that not only would he have to use more than two pitches, he’d have to find the strike zone more effectively. For a teenager to know that and implement it so quickly is one of the things that stands out the most.
“I think once you got up … it was knowing I was going to get away with less mistakes here,” Painter said. “They’re better hitters with better approaches, so I was always trying to stay ahead of it command-wise. I knew eventually if I kept doing what I was doing in Low-A I was going hit a roadblock. I figured out once I got to Jersey how important it was to get ahead in counts and how much easier pitching got when you’re throwing in those high-leverage pitcher counts.”
Indeed, Painter walked 1.7 per nine in his eight starts with Jersey City and lowered that to a ridiculous 0.6 BB/9 in five starts with Double-A Reading, all while continuing to limit hits and keeping his WHIP under 1.00. In Jersey, Painter started folding in his curve more and in Reading, the changeup developed from usable option to viable weapon, especially to keep hitters off his fastball.
Additionally, Painter takes pride in, and gets very high marks, for doing the little things well, like holding runners on (he had five pickoffs in 2022, including three over five starts in Reading) and fielding his position. That and the fact that he knows better than to rest on his laurels bodes well for him continuing to travel with haste to Philadelphia, showing a wise-beyond-his-years understanding of what he needs to work on to get there.
“It’s easy to look for,” Painter said, regarding peeking ahead to reaching the big leagues, ticking off things like increased changeup usage and throwing his slider harder to both sides of the plate as things to improve before he gets there. “But [I’ve thrown about] 100 professional innings. This year it was jumping from like 60 high school innings to 103, so that was kind of a big jump. We’re still making those baby steps to where MLB guys are going.”
“It’s hard not to look at a kid who puts up the numbers he did, had the success he had at the levels he got to and not have him on that radar,” Mattingly said. “We’ll see how it goes, but he’s put himself on the map a lot sooner than maybe some people would have expected.”